We Lessoned!

For the first time in about a month, I actually jumped my pony over colorful sticks!

OHGOD
This is pretty much all I’ve done for the last month. Toodle.

Nothing crazy- some grid work with placing poles to inspire straightness and encourage a good effort over the jumps. Seeing as Francis thinks lifting his shoulders and picking up his knees and rounding over his back over jumps is like OMG SO DUMB, this was a fantastic exercise for him.

And a fantastic exercise for me too- I didn’t have to worry about remembering courses, finding a distance, or doing much of anything besides work on my own position. Professional diagram below:

gymnastic_april

So trot in to the crossrail, one SHORT stride to the oxer, then one bigger stride to the vertical out. Poles to keep us straight to the oxer, then straightening poles over the vertical. Then a pole after the vertical because FRANCIS STOP SUCKING OUT TO THE WALL.

The added poles were really what made this grid work so well for us- that first stride to the oxer was super short. As in, the first time through we definitely bounced it. #18footstride. No bueno.

The trick was to get a short powerful trot in, so that he could land close to the crossrail and put in a nice short stride there. That channel created by the poles forced him to keep his body straight and not give himself extra room by bulging to either side. Homeboy actually had to pick himself up.

Then I LOVED the straightening poles over the last fence. You’ve all seen pictures of Frankie jumping- homeboy is athletic enough and is happy to jump anything, but he doesn’t have the most…classical…technique. As in, he jumps like a llama.

But the V-poles here really forced him to pick his shoulders up and stay completely straight, instead of leaning to either side. And while I don’t have media, I could feel him jumping SO CUTE. When your horse typically jumps like a drunk alpaca, it’s pretty easy to feel the difference. It’s such a nicer motion to stay with- I could let him push me up out of the saddle and give a really generous release instead of trying to figure out where the center of balance is and keeping a feel because lord knows we’re going to land in a heap and we need all the communication we can get right now so help me.

The pacing of this exercise was also something I needed to work on- you really had to ride one jump at a time (no kidding Olivia, that’s what we call “progressing through time.”) But what I mean is that the timing of the aids had to be more precise here.

That first stride was very short. Meaning we could not canter in, we could not beast-trot in (that’s an official dressage term btw). We had to get a powerful, short, straight, elastic trot in and keep shoulders up to collect the first stride. And then over the oxer I needed to PRESS and land moving for the bigger stride. If I asked too early for the bigger stride, I made Frankie’s life harder to the oxer. If I asked too late, I made his life harder to the vertical. If I timed it properly, I set him up for success at both jumps.

Side note- I love that even after doing grids for almost 20 years, there’s still so much to think about and consider even when they’re simple like this. Grids 4 lyfe.

After going through a couple times successfully- proving that it wasn’t just a fluke- I asked to be done a little early so we could end on a really good note. I needed a win after dealing with some stress at work lately, and Francis delivered. Because he is literally the best horse on the planet and if you disagree I will fight you in real life.

selfie
I have never related so hard in my life

I have to give a HUGE shoutout to Assistant Trainer here too. She’s been putting some pro rides on Frankie lately while I’ve taken a break from lessoning and it is seriously so noticeable. He always WANTS to give me the right answer, and she does such a great job of explaining to him what that right answer is. I’m incredibly grateful that I could take a month-long break from doing anything besides toodling, hop back on my horse, and have him more educated and fit than he was when we left off.

We didn’t do anything super crazy with this lesson- none of the jumps were very big at all- but it was the perfect way to knock some of the rust off. Frankie was happy, he jumped cute, I was less jiggly/loose in the tack than I anticipated I’d be, we worked up a good sweat, I loosened up some of the knots in my neck and back, and overall I count this as a successful therapy session. Bonus points that it was good training for both of us.

Star Lord and Abraham Lincoln

Frankie has earned both of these names so far this week.

You know those rides where everything seems to go right? Where you get consistency and straightness and fantastic effort and a whole bunch of things you’ve been working on start clicking into place and you feel like “wow, I’m actually a halfway decent rider” and stars and rainbows flash  before your eyes?

And you know those rides where your horse truly has to earn his oats by packing your butt around, because your body flails around and you can’t half-halt to save your life and don’t see a distance ever and your leg is swinging back and forth like you’re doing the hokey-pokey and you start to think “oh my god I am terrible at this sport” and the poop emoji flashes before your eyes?

Have you ever had both of those rides, one day after the other? BECAUSE THIS WEEK HAS ALREADY BEEN A ROLLERCOASTER FOR ME.

I’ll start with the hearts and stars ride: Monday. Things are quiet with half the barn gone to Florida, so I ended up having the whole ring to myself. Obviously this meant it was time to play some tunes.

Pro tip: the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix, Vol. 1 album not only has great tunes on it, but is almost exactly 45 minutes. AKA perfect for my warm up-work-cool down session I had planned. 10/10, would recommend.

awesome mix.gif

I spent a good amount of time just asking for a forward trot on a very loose rein. I used that time to do some of my own exercises- half set, stand straight up, no stirrups, etc. All Frankie had to do was stay forward and straight, and he could stretch down as much as he wanted. Being a peanut roller at heart, Francis took full advantage of this and dragged his nose through the dirt around the ring.

Once we were both limbered up and moving out, I started to ask for a bit more connection. And a bit more. And as I worked all sorts of different patterns and did extensions-collections around the ring, I slowly picked him up more and more.

Um. My horse is HANDSOME. Turns out that when I take my time and really warm him up to it, we get amazingly consistent steady contact with lift, good bend throughout his body, sensitivity to the aids, and all over unicorn status. Engaging all his muscles and he felt STRONG.

muscle-strong
v v strong

Canter work was equally fantastic- our collections actually had some OOMPH to them. And then our transitions! Our downwards transitions are notoriously dull and not-so-prompt. But on Monday, they were crisp and forward into the transition and UGH SO GOOD. Basically every step Francis took on Monday was complete magic.

baby-groot
sweet, sweet magic

I felt like the next Danny Emerson, I am such a genius amazing and watch me coax this wonderful flatwork out of my boy. I had completely lost track of time and was so caught up in our work, I felt so energized! And then I hopped off and realized OMG OW MY BODY OH LORD HELP ME. Because it turns out that asking for all this great work required crazy core engagement and strong legs. I just hadn’t noticed at the time because I was so excited about our work.

flatwork_mon
Clearly you can tell how great he was from our mirror selfie.

Which brings us to Tuesday: lesson day with the guest trainer. Let me start us off with the last thing he said to me as I left the ring post-lesson:

“You have a very honest horse there. He saves you a lot, doesn’t he? Maybe you should help him out more.”

And that’s a very accurate assessment of how that lesson went: Frankie was his usual sweet self, and I could. Not. Do. Anything. Like, at all.

dancing-potato

This is not to say that we had a totally tragic lesson and I ruined my horse- we certainly had some good moments in there and as mentioned, Frankie went really well.

But honestly, I haven’t ridden this poorly in months. My legs hung there uselessly instead of supporting, my core was a marshmallow so my half-halts were literally nothing, my heels were up-down-sideways-everywhere, I was hunched and crooked and chased my horse at jumps and then picked to the base and holy crap. It was like ok maybe things are going well PSYCH I am awful.

potato-face

It was a shame, because I really liked the exercise this trainer had us work through: a few rollbacks, a few bending lines, a few singles on a long approach, and then a triple combo, all set low and all done in both directions. It was great for asking a variety of questions of the horses without being terribly complicated. Frankie rocked it without my help.

So chalk it up to soreness, chalk it up to laziness, chalk it up to nerves in front of a new trainer, chalk it up to whatever you want: I was a bag person up top. As in, I looked like I was created entirely out of burlap bags.

Ah well. Tons of pats for pony, and we’ll try again later.

potato-vodka

 

Make That Booty Werk

Oh man, guys. We are asking Francis to work his butt a little harder and it’s really really fun. It’s so noticeable how much these different exercises are encouraging him to use his body better and I’m pretty giddy about riding him and feeling him get better and better.

I headed to the barn on Monday planning on a pretty decent flatwork session, but didn’t have a big plan for what we would work on- my go-to right now is transitions since ours need sharpening for sure. But Assistant Trainer was there and set up a bunch of ground poles, so pole-day it was!

Plus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all (I mean honestly, nothing bothers him let’s be real here), so I never worry about him trying to back off or speed through poles.

Minus side of Francis: poles do not bother him at all, so he’s not awfully concerned about keeping track of his feet.

So my role in this partnership as we trotted through was to keep my leg on to generate the impulsion, and then keep a steady hand for balance. The following pattern was set up in the ring, along with a few single poles on the diagonal that I didn’t include, so sue me:

feb_canter-poles

The poles along the long side were a simple exercise: forward and straight. The poles in the corner made it so you could stay out and put a few more steps in between the two, or stay closer in and push for fewer steps. We alternated a couple times between the two, trying to find the right balance of pressing up while keeping a consistent rhythm.

canter_poles
OH DEAR GOD FRANCIS TAKE THE WHEEL

And then it was time to canter the poles! We started with 3 in a row set to bounce them, then added more and more until we were bouncing through all six in a row. The corner exercise remained, where we could either put one full stride between the two, or stay in and bounce them around the turn.

So I don’t know about you guys, but I have a weird anxious energy about ground pole exercises. I would 100% rather put the jumps up to any height instead of having to canter poles on the ground. Luckily Frankie does not share this anxiety, and was really really good throughout these exercises in both directions.

I did have to take a bit firmer contact so that he didn’t try to get flat through the bounces- they were set a little shorter than he would’ve liked, which was FANTASTIC for sitting him down on his butt to push. And that corner exercise forced him to pay attention to where his hind feet were doing as he pushed out of the turn. It definitely helped force a little of that “explode out of the turn” feeling we’re always trying to develop.

After working through this a couple times each direction, I could feel Frankie pick himself up and soften onto my hand. It was a very very cool feeling to have that elastic energy under me to play with.

Then on Tuesday we had our lesson! Fairly basic warmup on the flat, then we did some more canter poles, set on the quarter line as a one stride-bounce-one stride exercise. We needed a lot more power from behind to have the energy for this- Trainer played Flight of the Bumblebees for me as I went through as a reminder to get that canter more active. In other news, I now demand a soundtrack for every exercise.

Trainer then slowly built up each element of the gymnastic until it looked like this:

feb_gymnastic

Placing pole, crossrail, one stride, crossrail bounce, one stride, oxer out.

The rule was trot in then press out. This was tough for Frankie! As a not-super-fiery kinda dude, he really didn’t want to work hard through this, especially when the jumps were little. We had to play around with our pace coming in- I wanted to help him out by pressing forward in, but then he inevitably put in a canter step before takeoff. I had to be very conscious to get a nice short powerful trot in and then SQUEEZE through the rest of the exercise to get him going.

We then added a halt after the oxer, with the goal being to halt in a straight line. This took three tries! Frankie really was NOT expecting to have to stop so soon after opening up for that oxer. The goal with this was to be able to go from a short powerful trot, to bigger powerful canter, back to a halt very quickly: pushing the range of adjustability that we’re looking for. We love that Frankie is not a sensitive horse for so many reasons, but we do want him sensitive enough to react to my adjustments more quickly than he currently does.

This exercise actually went much more smoothly once the last oxer went up in height, forcing Frankie to pay attention. Once he realized he could go big jumpiez he perked right up and carried me through the grid with less work on my part.

And the last time through the grid felt SO good. I didn’t have to work to push him through because he had great up-and-down- energy to adjust himself. And that last oxer, OMG. He picked his back up and used his neck and rounded up and over the jump, and really jumped up to me instead of me having to presspresspress across it. I wish I had a pic of that jump because it honestly felt like one of the best efforts he’s ever given me. You should’ve seen the big fat grin on my face 😀

It was also cool to feel him develop that same elasticity over the course of the lesson- he really picked his poll up and sought the contact, and started asking me for forward instead of the other way around. I honestly think he likes his job a lot- he’s kinda a slug on the flat and when the jumps are little, but when we raise the expectations he starts getting excited about his work. Gawd he’s so cool.

As previously mentioned, the barn heads down to Florida this weekend! Luckily, Trainer has found someone to come in and teach lessons while she is gone- it’s been a long time since I trained with someone else, so I’m excited to see what new perspectives he’ll have for us. And of course, I’m excited to share with you.

Other random exciting news: Trainer is expanding the outdoor ring even more than she had originally planned, and the footing has been ordered. It looks like Memorial Day is the target completion date for the whole project and I am SO FREAKIN’ EXCITED. It’ll be totally amazeballs to have a nice big ring to set some nice big jumps in 😉 I’ll have to start taking some progress pics so you can see the transformation.

Do you have any go-to groundpole exercises?

Big Stretches

You know that post-show hangover? Yeah, that was Monday for me. So tired. So sore. Ded.

But then Tuesday dawned with that most wondrous of feelings: Second Day Sore. SDS. I was a decrepit little hobbit around the office all day, and I know my lesson that afternoon would be dicey.

Luckily, the the no-stirrup work and gymnastics we did actually stretched me out and helped my muscles recover that much faster- score!

Our private lessons have come to an end due to scheduling conflicts, so I’m getting back into the zone of semi-privates once more. Our flatwork was nothing crazy- lots of extensions and collections within gaits, making sure we got a prompt response to my cues and were controlling that shoulder around our turns (both his AND mine).

Frankie felt really great! Forward, working over his back as he warmed up, balanced. I think the rest day and the slightly warmer temperatures put him in his happy place because he was really a pleasure to ride (I mean….he always is….but yeah he was great).

We kept the exercises fairly straightforward for the jumping phase. For a while we just worked through a simple grid: trot in crossrail-one stride-vertical-one stride-oxer. It never got very high and it was more to allow me to focus on my own position through the exercise. Then we did a little gymnastic-y type course:

jan31_gymnastic

So gymnastic up the long side, cut across the middle, up the bending line red to skinny in a straightforward 4, down the one stride combo, then up the oxer to barrel bending out in 4 or 5.

My goal through the gymnastic was to stay still with my shoulders, keep my leg on while staying in a light seat, and focus on straightness through my entire body all the way through. Over the middle jump 2, we sliced it a little bit and then tried to hug jump 1A to give us plenty of space to make the turn to 3. The 4 stride was very steady- neither forward nor holding- and Frankie locked onto the skinny early on so no problems there. We had to cowboy up out of the corner a bit for the one stride, then balance around for the last bending line. The first two times we galloped out in four strides, then went back and shaped and held for the five.

Overall nothing crazy! The jumps stayed low and none of the striding was tricky. Much more focus on my own equitation and playing with our tracks to see how different tracks affect our overall course. It was honestly pretty relaxing! Happy horse, straightforward exercises, stretching my tired muscles and his.

We’ll have one more lesson next week before the barn heads down to Florida, then we’ll be on a mini-vacation. Trainer mentioned that she maaaaay get someone to come teach while she’s gone, so we’ll see if our flatwork sessions will have a lesson thrown in there. As much as I wish I could go down the Florida with them, it will be nice to have a quieter ring to work in- it’s tough to do as much lateral work and pole work as I’d like with all the lesson kids sharing the indoor this time of year.

The outdoor ring is currently under expansion and should be GORGEOUS with brand new footing later in the spring- I really can’t wait for the weather to turn so we can ride outside more!!! Also so I can consistently feel my toes and not feel like a marshmallow in 10,000 layers. But also to ride outside.

The High Schoolies

I was able to take a makeup lesson this weekend despite the STUPID FREAKIN COLD WEATHER, so of course I jumped at the chance (HAH FUN PUN). I may or may not have asked my Trainer if she was going to cancel lessons the day of, but I bundled up and braved the cold.

This ended up being a group lesson with the three of us competing in the High Child/Adults this season- two of us ammies, and our superstar junior. Despite LOVING my private lessons, this was a great chance to learn from watching some super talented riders- and my trainer was happy she could just put the jumps up and leave them there for the duration of the lesson.

Warmup was slow and steady to get us all accustomed to the cold. We spent the first 20-30 minutes just focused on getting our muscles moving and letting our lungs adjust. Lots of lengthening and shortening within the gaits, with frequent change of rein. Francis didn’t have the same elastic-ness that he often does these days- but can you blame him?? It was disgusting out. Like the total bro that he is, he showed up to work and did his best.

We warmed up slowly over fences too, doing plenty of crossrails to get our backs working. We also did a trot-in-canter-out bending line to play with stride length.

Then it was time for a warmup course with the jumps set low:

jan_high-schooling_1

Bear with me through this recap, a couple jumps moved/changed. But to start we simply did outside single, diagonal oxer, up the diagonal in a forward three strides, and then down the combo in a balancing two.

That three stride proved to be a really useful exercise for us- Frankie is not naturally a “spicy” horse, so he doesn’t land and rev. Which is totally great in a lot of ways: I never worry about him landing and taking off. BUT. We do want him to land and continue instead of landing and saying “well I hope that’s it for me.” A friend commented that she was really surprised when she rode him because in videos he looks like a pretty forward ride over fences. He is not. He is happy to go forward, but only when told. So having that forward line to practice landing and GOING was something we really needed.

Trainer then put the jumps up to a decent height and we did the following course:

jan_high-schooling_2

Cut through the quarter line to get to the oxer, up the bending line in a balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, down the combo again- this time with an oxer in- and finishing on the single brick. Or something like this. My video is showing me that I’m wrong, but something like this ended up happening eventually and I already saved the jump diagram, so you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I’m knowingly lying to you.

Overall not too bad! I needed to balance a little more in that five to even out the striding, I didn’t support enough with my leg over the single oxer, we got a bit of a launcher over the oxer into the combo, and Frankie tried to blow through my hand so we ended up popping up a chip to the last jump. So not great either. But manageable. I simply was not as present as I needed to be up top as we navigated the course, so Frankie was left to his own devices a few times. I would defend myself by saying I could feel neither my fingers nor my feet, but let’s be honest: this is a problem even when I have full feeling.

Our last course:

jan_high-schooling_3

Up the brick to start, down the outside line in a pretty standard three strides, up the bending in the balanced five, down the single oxer, up the forward three, and down the outside 2-stride.

This felt better! Definitely not without some sticky points, but definitely more active and present. We got a nice gallop up to the first brick and then backed up into the short end before revving up to the outside line. Funny enough- we had been doing so many bending lines and singles that Frankie assumed he should turn out of the line. He was happy to continue out over the oxer when I put my left leg on, but that was definitely not his assumption. Balancing around the tight turn back to 4 and then sitting back for the five strides (which was def tight), and then I was thrilled with our straightness and pace to the yellow oxer- for sure our best jump. I got him a little tight to the line and we had to cowboy out for the three (good practice!)- I sat back too soon over the green wall which caused a hind rail- and then we came out pretty nicely in the two- this started feeling tighter and tighter as the jumps went up and we carried more pace, and we knocked the rail the first time through.

jan_lesson_yellow.jpg
OK so we’re not going in the hunter ring, but this is pretty cute as far as Francis-style-jumping goes

We ended up going back one last time to just do the last 4 jumps: the three stride diagonal to the combo. I was happier with our balance and pace there. We came in pretty tight to the combo and still managed to make it out in one piece: our big project is getting Frankie more comfortable with the tight spot and I’m so proud of his progress here!

We then got to watch our superstar junior jump 4’6″ and I was really weirdly proud of her. Not my child, not my horse. But like, I was vicariously jumping that through her and she rocked it with picture perfect eq. I want to be like that 17 year old girl when I grow up.

Overall: we had our sticky spots that we need to work on. I need to be more present and active from the get-go instead of taking a course or two to warm up to it. I need to support Frankie more when I ask for the closer spots, since he will always jump it but is MUCH happier if I help him out. I need to adjust my timing so that I can recover quickly after the jumps, without causing hind rails. Lots of homework.

But my horse also jumped like a freak and kept the same ears-perked-but-also-flopping expression as the jumps went up and up and up. We were able to get out of the sticky spots more quickly and more easily than we could even just two months ago.

frankie_jumpingfreak
One time I can actually comment on height: we know that the wood kickboard sticks at 4′, so clearly the 1.10m will not pose a problem for him.

I sound like a broken record and I sound like a sap, but I’m going to keep saying it: I am incredibly grateful to get to learn and progress with this horse. He’s the most patient and wonderful teacher I could ever ask for and hold on I’m literally crying as I write this because GAWD I’m obsessed with my horse. He is the coolest.

jan_lesson_canter
And he be super cute too.

As a treat: here’s the video from our lesson, so you can see said sticky spots. The vain part of me wanted to edit out the icky parts, but hey, THAT’S WHAT INSTAGRAM IS FOR. But actually. Enjoy the honest version here. I will continue to watch this over and over and sob quietly about what a saint my pony is.

Any tips on developing that landing-softly-but-not-too-soon feeling?

My Horse is a Prince and My Life is a Lie

We’ll start out with the part where my horse is a prince and get to the lying later on.

We had our first lesson of the new year! I hadn’t ridden in almost 2 weeks (one brief hack in there doesn’t reeeeally count), but one of our junior riders flatted Frankie around for me while I was out of town. 10/10, would recommend barn rat usage to all people. So the only one feeling flabby and out of shape after the holidays was me!

Naturally, Trainer had me do a decent amount of no-stirrup work. She said “sorry” at first, but I told her to take that back, we both knew she wasn’t sorry. Lots of circles and changing rein and changing the bend helped keep my mind off that oh-so-pleasant burning sensation in my legs and core.

We also played around more with our shoulder-in which has developed very nicely, and then worked on that leg yield exercise I told you about before, where we leg yield diagonally down the long side. I’ll wait here if you want to review the professional diagram I made of that.

This exercise has come a long way! I’ve been able to keep his haunch in off the wall and give little corrections to keep his body straight. I still have to exaggerate my aids a bit, but they get a reaction more crisply and more quickly. My homework is to continue working on our lateral work and get that shoulder and haunch more precisely where I want them. We’re really happy with how well Frankie is retaining and progressing with these movements- he may be solid bone between the ears, but he truly is supremely trainable and wants to please.

No crazy canter exercises in this lesson, just a couple large-ish circles and extension-collection exercises to get us tuned in and listening. He felt absolutely fantastic in his canter work- up and light in the bridle, round over his back, listening well. We kicked it up into a hand-gallop for those extensions but he still came right back to collect. Good pony!

We warmed up over a crossrail end jump a few times going to the right….and every single time we landed the left lead, no matter how strongly I asked for the right in the air. So we cantered it and angled it to ask even harder for the lead, then went back and trotted it again. Bam. Right lead. He just needed a little louder message on that one. Of course, he then proceeded to land the right lead after EVERY jump for the next 5 minutes, but we’re working on it.

We built up our course in pieces, here’s the diagram:

jan_sturns

The first exercise was trot in 1, canter out 2 in a bright five strides. Not much of a story here- we had to be nice and forward to the first jump in order to kick up for the five.

Next was 3-4-5: trot in the end jump, hard left for the yellow, then s-turn to the corner vertical in a balancing 5. The key was looking over 3 and leading with that left rein to get us looking where we were going, and then holding out and shaping to make 4-5 fit in more evenly.

Next we did 6-7-8: canter up the quarter line, bend out in a waiting 5, then down the single gate. The five was a little tight but not terrible when this exercise was done alone, but it got much tighter when this was at the end of the course. Single gate was….a single gate. Not much to say there.

Then the jumps went up and we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Corner vertical bending up the outside in a balancing five (now cantering in), then immediate left over the end jump, hard left over the yellow oxer, s-turn out back over the corner vertical in a shaped five, immediate turn up the quarter line oxer, bending out in a collected five, and ending down the single gate.

Overall, I was very happy with how this rode. We were able to get a nice conservative distance to one, which set us up to rock back for the five. The turn to the end jump came up fairly easily, and once I remembered to look where I was going and start the turn over the jump, the yellow oxer came up nicely too. We shaped out for the five and jumped the left side of 5 to give us a little extra room to get to the quarter line, and sat back for the bending line. And then the single gate continued to just be a single gate. Whatevs.

We did end up doing 4-5-6-7 one more time to practice that turn from the corner to the quarter line- once I got back with my shoulders and sat my butt in the saddle like ze Germans this rode up really powerfully and I could feel Francis jumping the heck out of that green oxer. Of course then I was excited and galloped out in four, but we made it work.

Overall, a fantastic lesson to kick off 2017! We did discuss bumping up to a slow twist- not because we want to slow Frankie down, but because we want a titch more responsiveness for those turns. Now that my legs are stronger and Frankie has developed some of that jumper-fiery-fitness, we’re going to play around so I can be lighter with my hands.

Now on to the whole “my life is a lie” part of the story. As I finished up my lesson, the following conversation ensued:

Me: Thank you so much for a great start to the year! And thank you for not putting the jumps up too high, I’m glad you’re easing me in after the break.
Trainer: …..you realize part of that course was 3’6″, right? You really have no idea how big jumps are, do you?
Me: HAH awesome. Then props to me for not being intimidated by 3’6″. Big progress! Less than a year ago, 3’6″ was the biggest I had EVER jumped, and even that was only once or twice.
Trainer: And look at you now, jumping 4′!
Me: ….you said 3’9″.
Trainer: Well the course overall was set to 3’9″, but some of those jumps were 4′.

So I officially quit. I give up. I completely give up on knowing how big the jumps are. From now on, I will no longer even attempt to estimate what we’re jumping unless we are at a show and someone officially tells me what the deal is. Because clearly I have no earthly idea what’s going on.

Womp womp. Extra big pats for pony for not even blinking and dealing with my ammy mistakes every day ❤

We have another lesson this weekend where Trainer said she would jack the jumps up, and all I want in this world is to get some media from it. Private lessons are great, but it means I haven’t been able to get pics/videos of our rides in over a month and I’d love to be able to review our progress! Maybe I can coerce a barn rat….

My question for you today: How do you get media of your riding when you’re the only one in the ring? I need your tricks!

Moving Sideways and Moving Up

Startlingly enough, I actually have a lot to say about the flatwork we did in our lesson this week. I know, I know, usually it’s “blah blah blah warmup stuff then JUMPS,” so this will be a bit of a departure.

I’ve mentioned lately that Frankie and I have worked a bunch on our shoulder-in. And it’s really come together nicely! He’s already well schooled on it- I just had to learn how to ask properly.

So we decided to switch things up and work on strengthening our leg-yields. We’re pretty solid at coming down the quarter-line and leg yielding out to the wall, so Trainer decided to switch it up and make it hard for us: bring his haunch in off the wall, and then leg-yield diagonally down the long side. As thus:

wall_legyield
Pretend that potato-looking thing is a horse, this is about the limit of my Paint skills.

So the wall is essentially blocking any attempts to evade forward. I set this up getting the counter-bend through the corner, asked his haunch to move over….and Frankie very promptly gave me a BEAUTIFUL shoulder-in (or should I say shoulder-out since it was towards the outside).

Like, he wasn’t confused or anything. He was very pleased that he knew exactly what he was doing. Except Francis, there are other things besides shoulder-in.

We came back to the walk and worked on communicating the whole haunches-in-straighten-your-body-yes-that-means-you-have-to-cross-over-I-know-it’s-hard-but-please thing. It took a few tries, but I could really feel him thinking, and we eventually got some great steps!

So we stepped back up into the trot (this was all done sitting without irons, so I could get a nice deep feel) and tried again. I’ll freely admit that at one point, Frankie bumped his nose into the wall because I wasn’t indicating “sideways” enough and he is such a pure soul that he tried to go forward through a wall for me. Dear sweet boy. But we got some good effort and a couple great steps! This will be a work in progress but I can definitely feel when we get it right.

Side note: all this sitting deep and pushing sideways had the effect of getting Frankie really up into the bridle. It felt great.

We did some regular canter work to get him moving- big circles and such, and he was feeling nice and light on my hand. Trainer had us start developing our counter-canter this week too, which is new for us. The key with Frankie was to keep his stride nice and collected, since he really wanted to dive down and get strung out off balance. He is more than happy to gallop around on the wrong lead- getting him to collect and balance for a true, nice counter-canter was a bit more effort for him.

To work on this we did a fun figure-8 exercise: Pick up the correct lead, then come across the diagonal to change direction while holding the same lead, come around the short end on the counter-lead, then go back across the diagonal to change direction and be on the correct lead. We did this in both directions and it went well! Frankie has a fairly easy change when you ask but it isn’t auto by any stretch. Which honestly, I prefer. This way I can choose exactly which lead I want him to be on no matter which direction we’re going, and can only ask for the change when I really want it.

Trainer and I are thinking that if I qualify for Regionals early enough, Frankie and I might go play in the eq ring once I’m not having to chase points. So we gotta get that counter-canter and lateral work polished up!

Trainer also made a great point- in the winter when we can’t jump as much, lateral work is going to help keep Frankie fit and muscled for his job. I also like this because it’s something I can work hard on between lessons when we’re flatting together.

NOW we can talk about the jumps. But you don’t get a Powerpoint diagram today because that whole Paint diagram thing took all my artistic skill for the day. I’ll recover soon. Probably.

But really, we didn’t do anything crazy course-wise. A couple diagonal jumps, a bending line in four short strides, a one-stride combo then bending out in three strides. Trainer did put the jumps up pretty high once I was warmed up, so that felt great. And I’m not sure what “pretty high” means to be honest- coulda been 3’3″, coulda been 3’6″, coulda been 2’9″ for all I know. They looked bigger than what we usually do so I’m guessing around 3’6″? I’ve learned not to ask.

nov_oxer
Big enough that the Beast had to put in an actual effort to get over it

But I really do prefer the bigger jumps on Francis- when he puts in more effort, I find it a lot easier to keep my leg tight and stay centered. Like his motion pushes me into the right spot.

nov_plank
Well maybe not the right spot. But a BETTER spot.

We discussed how I need to recover a lot faster after each jump- I tend to take a full stride after landing to recover and that’s like 16′ into a line. Not OK. Trainer wants me to think of standing up in my irons as we land- not sitting back down in the tack, but stretching up. This is the first time in my life that I’m jumping big enough that there’s a “landing phase” instead of just putting feet down so it’s going to be developing muscle memory. I plan to watch a lot of Beezie and McLain to see how they move their bodies on that larger scale.

I’ll wrap up by confessing to you that I’m a liar. I’ve been telling you over and over how we’re on show hiatus for the winter to save money. BUT. BUT. Trainer has some one-day rated shows she’s willing to go to so I can get points for Regionals early in the season before classes get huge. And the one-days are so much cheaper than the week-long ones (obvi). So this will save money in the long run!

We haven’t picked which one (or two or three) we’re going to do, but it looks like the move up to 1.10m is going to be in December or January. I’M SO EXCITED TO JUMP BIG JUMPS WITH THE FRANKFURTER.

What are some fun lateral-work exercises you like to use to keep your horse fit during the winter?

Haunches-Out and Outside Leg

No political discussion from me, guys. All I’ll say is this- I have seen so many people reaching out to each other today to express love and support, and that gives me a lot of hope.

Let’s talk about happy stuff though- I got to ride my horse for the first time in a week! I can’t even tell you how happy that made me. AND it was a lesson, so we were able to really buckle down and work hard.

We’re continuing our pursuit of stronger lateral work- for my last few lessons, Trainer has had me drop my stirrups and sit the trot so I can really get deep and drape around Frankie more as I ask for these movements. Our shoulder-in has progressed and is much more consistent (though there’s still a ways to go), so we’ve started working more on our haunches-out.

To do this we’re practicing a lot of true counter-bend throughout his whole body- it isn’t enough for me to ask for the bend in front of me (seriously Olivia that’s not bend that’s just crooked). We’ve been doing circles on the counter-bend and asking him to push his haunches to the outside and it’s hard!! Frankie is eager to please, but making him move his body in these new ways is tough for him, and he generally tries to evade by speeding up. It’s taking a lot of core strength to pick him up and say, “no friend, we move sideways now with tiny powerful steps.” We got a couple good efforts from him last night, and we’re going to keep working to develop his sensitivity to my leg and ability to isolate his front and hind ends.

Our canter exercise involved a lot of circle work: canter a large circle, BALANCED sitting trot small circle, canter large circle, BALANCED canter small circle, repeat. When he stayed round and balanced and up off my hand, this worked well. When I let my leg get weak, he decided that breaking to a giant trot was easier than continuing a collected canter. Frankie really is such a tattle-tale: he will put in exactly as much effort as I put in.

My key takeaway here was to make sure my outside aids were present and pushing him around. I needed that inside leg to shape the circle, but he needed that outside leg to push his body around and channel the energy around the turn. And at all times, I need to sit up and get deep in my seat- Frankie needs that support right now and he doesn’t get that when I hover up out of my tack.

Then the jumping part! We warmed up a couple times over a little vertical off a diagonal turn, focusing on finding the right track out of the corner and channeling him straight to the base. Once we were feeling that, we started building up our course:

nov_bending

Our first exercise was 7 to 2 in a bending 7 strides. This was still pretty much part of our warmup, but Frankie was nice and forward and responsive so this came up nicely without having to go back and make any fixes.

Next was 1-2-3a-3b-4. Outside vertical, end-ish jump, four forward strides to the oxer into the combo, one stride to the itty bitty skinny box out, hard right over the other end-ish jump. The first jump came up nicely- we motored out of the corner and homeboy carried a nice pace up and over- then I needed to hold that outside leg to push him across 2. The four stride was a bit gallop-y, but that set us up for a decent combo. Luckily Frankie is super point-and-shoot, so the skinny was very straightforward for him. Then it was lots of right leg to push him out the the corner and give us more space to make the turn to 4.

Next part: 5-6-7-8. Diagonal vertical, rollback over outside (going between 2 and 8), back up the white gate, and bending out over the wall in a forward bending four. I had to look through that rollback so we didn’t get sucked out to the wall, and motor up out of that turn. Then again- we had to motor up out of the rollback to the gate. Then it was holding my outside aids in the bending- left leg to push him over on the track, and left hand to straighten him out once it was in view.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3a-3b-4-5-6-7-8. The only different part here is 4-5, which was a bending 4. Nothing crazy there as long as I landed looking through my turn to set us up for the rollback.

nov_wall
This was the hilarious last jump on course. Pic was taken from Frankie’s back so perspective is a little off, but this was about 3′. I giggled when I saw it.

Overall I was happy with this course. Some takeaways:

  1. Ride the frick up out of the corner. Yes, we need to package and balance into our turns. But then it’s time to hit the gas and get him to dig in and power out of the turns up to the jump. When he has that power, we can make pretty much any distance work.
  2. Outside leg 5ever. Two legs, two hands. All the time. Outside aids are what get him straight, and straight means power.
  3. Use our power to push across the jumps. Yes, even from the short tight spots. This was such a noticeable difference- when he had a bit of fire in his step, he jumped so much better, which allowed me to maintain a stronger position and land galloping.
  4. On that note- land galloping when we can. Obviously if there’s a combo or set striding we have to recover quickly off the jump and balance, but when possible we want to land and immediately rev the engine back up. That way we don’t have to build our pace and power back up from scratch every time.

I really feel like we’re making great progress- sometimes I get discouraged by how much difficulty we (mostly I) have with certain exercises, but then I realize that these exercises are much harder than what we’ve done in the past. Of course we’re going to struggle more, this is difficult stuff! I’m so proud of how far and how quickly Frankie has developed a lot of skills that are new to him, and it’s getting me really excited for our future together.

And lucky for me, work has slowed down enough that I can get back to my usual routine of riding 6x/week! Frankie might not be thrilled about the extra work, but I sure am.

What are some exercises you use to develop haunches-out?

Nice and Simple

JK LOL NOTHING IS SIMPLE EVER

Since Trainer and Assistant Trainer were in Kentucky for the RRP last week (they got 4th and 9th in the 2’6″ Hunter division out of >70 horses! Yay sweet baby TBs!), I was able to fit in a make-up lesson over the weekend. And yes, I’m sore.

We started by flatting around in the outside ring since it was hotter than Hades, but Frankie was a bro about handling the heat. There was a fun groundpole exercise set up with a lot of options:

trotpoles

We started out by trotting straight through down the long side- the goal was to stay super duper straight and bouncy through them, instead of letting the slant force us to drift left or right. I needed to keep my shoulders back and half-halt, and channel through more strongly with leg and hand.

Then we went through all swervy- doing a shallow serpentine down the long side through the “channels” created by the poles. This was a tough one! The key for us was sitting Frankie down on his butt to collect and counter-bending through all those shallow turns. If I didn’t have strong enough outside aids, we got really swervy and overshot a lot.

Next, Trainer put the pairs of poles together to make 4 canter poles set at diagonals down the long side. The catch- they weren’t really set at a real stride length. It forced us to focus on a truly bouncy, adjustable canter so that we could shorten or lengthen as needed to make it through the poles.

So hard! But I’m happy to say that our canter is coming along really nicely, and we were eventually able to bounce on through there with an energetic, collected canter. It was super tricky though to stay straight and not fall in at the end without swapping out, especially to the right- Francis loves himself his left lead.

Then it was time to jump!!! We warmed up over a crossrail and then started doing separate pieces of our course. There were only 6 jumps in the ring, so I knew it would be a simple course HAHAHAHAH PSYCH NO WAY.

simplecourse
I promise I will explain

Our first exercise was 1-2-3: up the single diagonal, roll back around over the green end jump, and gallop out over the vertical in the combo in a forward 4 strides. Staying nice and straight into the corner after 1 helped give the room to make the turn to 2, and we had to hit the gas and gallop the final stride to 2 so we could keep rolling out over the vertical on the wall.

Next was 4-5-6a-6b-7: outside vertical, down the diagonal, up the combo in one stride, and down the other single diagonal. Not much to say here- we had to rev up out of the corner and ride strongly to 5, the combo came up nicely, and then waiting with my shoulders to get to the base of 7.

After that, we did 8-9-10-11-12: outside vertical, right hand turn to the end jump in 4 strides, back over the outside vertical, then diagonal jump to diagonal jump in a SHORT 2 strides. I needed to power my canter up out of the corner to 10, but surprisingly the 2-stride rode fantastically- we sliced 11 a bit and then sat back hard to fit the two in, but Frankie was super chill about it.

Then we put it all together! 1-2-3-4-5-6a-6b-7-8-9-10-11-12. Who says you can’t make a 13 effort course out of only 6 jumps?! At this point most of the jumps were set to 3’3″-3’6″ish (I think, we all know I’m terrible at judging fence height, but these looked decently big to me), and the oxer out of the combo was definitely the biggest.

Guys. Frankie is such a bro. There were really good pieces and then there were sloppier pieces, but Frankie gave me EXACTLY what I asked for every step of the way. I literally went “woohoo!” over the oxer in the combo since it felt like we were jumping the moon. And proud moment- Frankie had a bit of a stumble about 2 strides out from the final 2-stride and I let the reins slip so he could recover. In the past it would’ve taken us a while to regroup and I would’ve circled, but instead I just kept my leg on and supported him to the base, and the combo rode perfectly. With no reins.

We did go back and come down the single outside vertical a few more times so I could practice riding more strongly and actively to the base, and when I finally got it right I could feel Frankie stretch and use his neck better, and Trainer said he used his whole body over it.

Overall, I really loved getting to do a bigger course. Frankie jumps more strongly once the jumps hit around 3’6″ and that helps my position IMMENSELY- it’s so much easier to hold myself up when he gives me that little *push* out of the saddle. It’s also much easier to see my spots to the bigger jumps, and I feel like I can really gallop Frankie up to the base.

I may have trouble walking the next day because my legs and abs are sore, but that just means I’m actually working my muscles properly! My friend said she got some video, so hopefully she can send that along soon for me to share with you guys 🙂

Do you have any tricks for setting a challenging course with limited number of jumps?

Fancy Flatwork and Curvy Courses

 

How many of you guys watched Harrisburg this past weekend? Man, the course diagram looked fairly simple but it did NOT ride simply.

pessoa_medal_course

Not a ton of jumps, but those end oxers were TOUGH, and the bending combo too. Plus getting the same strides from 5/8 to the combo in both directions. This course seriously asked some hard questions and the kids who ended up on top had to work their butts off to get there.

Naturally, my trainer returned from Harrisburg inspired to inflict this same course on her students. Which brings me to our lesson this week. Which I am still sore from.

For a change, I’m actually going to talk about our flatwork for more than 10 seconds, since we worked on it a LOT this week. I mean, we always do, but this was some next level stuff.

Trot work: I have gotten better about offering a consistent, steady contact to Frankie, and now it’s his job to take that contact and meet me halfway. It was interesting- he’s always been stronger at connecting to the outside rein going to the left, but I felt more connected going to the right this week. My suspicion is that my monster right leg is the culprit here- it’s so much stronger than my left leg, it isn’t even funny.

Trainer had me drop my stirrups and work at the sitting trot for a GOOD long time to help me sit deeper and develop a better feel for Frankie’s movement. Lots of big circles, small circles, counter-bending to the correct bend, shoulder-in down the long side. I’m still working on keeping more still and connected when asking for that shoulder-in, but Frankie was very obliging about giving it to me when I asked properly. Now I just have to ask properly more! We focused a lot on straightness, power from behind up into the bridle, and getting him moving off my leg.

Canter work: homeboy doesn’t get to take a couple flail-y steps to move from the walk to the canter. After a couple sloppy departs, we were able to sharpen these up. We also worked heavily on our canter-walk transitions, with the intent of stepping under and moving into a nice flowing forward walk.

We still have a ways to go to get these truly sharp, but there’s definite progress there. We used to coast down half the long side and ooze into a shuffling walk and we’ve definitely cut down the time it takes. I need to remember to sit tall and engage my core when asking for the downwards so Frankie can’t lean on my hand and dive down.

Here’s a clip of some of our flatwork:

Some things I need to work on position-wise that will help Frankie out, but super proud of my boy for putting his thinking cap on and working so hard!

On to the jumping. And guys. It was a doozie. Here’s the diagram:

oct_medal_course

First course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3. Overshooting the turn to 2 and slicing that left to right gave a little more room to the turn to 3. Barely. Woof.

Second course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one stride, out over 5 in two strides.

This added a challenge over 3- I had to stay very straight so that there was room to turn to 4. Then it was a big one-stride, so we had to cowboy out of that turn to gallop out the 1 to the 2. Still woof.

Full course: 1, turn right over 2, hairpin turn left over 3, bending 4a to 4b in one, bending out over 5 in two, immediate right turn over 6, hairpin left over 7, up 5 the other way, bending in two to 4a, then two strides to 4b, turn right over 3 the other way, then loop back over 2 the other way.

HOLY BAJEESUS. The first part rode the same, then 6 and 7 came up decently. It was a bit gallopy from 7 back to 5, then had to really shape and press for the 2 strides to the combo. Then fitting two strides in there was HARD. We really had to shape that combo.

The first time through I accidentally put 3 strides between 5 and the combo, which made the two-stride much easier to fit in. Apparently that counts as cheating though, so we had to go back and make it a two to a two.

So yeah. A very challenging course modeled after the questions asked in the Harrisburg course.

Thoughts on the jumping: my auto release is getting there. It still isn’t muscle memory, but it felt like an improvement from last time. I also felt stronger in my leg- again, not completely where it needs to be yet, but progress. Frankie is jumping more cleanly when I support him better and get him to that tighter spot. Overall: we’re making steady progress together.

What needs work now is my mindset. If the distance isn’t coming up easily, I have a tendency to kinda give up and say “Frankie take the wheel.” I need to trust myself more and MAKE the striding happen. Frankie isn’t always right. He might not be thrilled about the tighter spot, but that’s what we need to jump powerfully and cleanly. He’s not going to get offended or fussy if I ride more actively, so I need to be a nosy pepper. Imma get jalapeno business.

And then best boy got a bath because apparently 82 degrees in October is a thing this year.

october_bath
He might actually be a moose instead of a horse, need to get the DNA test done.

A few side notes as we wrap up here:

Send manfriend your questions! He’s really excited to share with all y’all. You can also feel free to send questions to me directly, on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.

Which brings me to some fun news:

We now have a Facebook page! That was pretty much the last thing on the social media to-do list for the blog, so go check it out and follow along for yet ANOTHER way to get your daily dose of Francis. Also please tell me what you usually share on Facebook and how you manage all your social media accounts and general tips on time-management and how to be an adult OK thanks.

What kind of lateral work do you like to incorporate to get your horse moving off your leg?